|Gloria My Gloria
I walk into the precinct at 8 am. Coffee brews in the lobby
and I pour myself a cup. Martina is behind the front desk. She
is wearing a black suit jacket and skirt. Long it drapes her
ankles which I watch from behind her. Bared skin smooth and in
Morning Manny, she says without looking at me. Thereís a note
for you on your desk.
Hi Martina, I say. What I donít say is, Martina I want you I
want to touch the nape of your neck, which I think every
morning. Burnt and etched in my days.
My desk is a mess. Papers are scattered between sheets of
negatives and cream clear cards. I unlock the desk drawer and
take out the city issue camera. It is dented and covered in
metal black tape. The note on the desk rests above the pile of
chaos carefully placed for my attention. It says, Manny, 18th
and Grove, 7 am.
Martina, my simple obsession, I think. I walk out the door
and hail a cab.
The bed and breakfast is a burned pile of black wood. A house
of cards tempting to fall to pieces. Detective Swain stands on
the other side of the yellow tape. He drinks from a styrofoam
cup. His hair is greased back and his white shirt is crumpled,
wrinkled beneath a gray jacket.
Itís about time, Manny. What you been doing, washing your
I laugh. Swain is my boss.
What do we have here, Detective, I ask.
Electrical malfunction. Two people were inside. A man . . .
well, more specifically a powerful man. Weíre talking House of
Reps. And a woman, most likely a prostitute. No name, no ID.
Donít take any pictures of our John. Get a few of the outside of
the house and get one of the girl. And donít make a big deal of
this, Manny. Just do your job and forget about it. You know the
The detective takes a sip from his cup, then says, What a
face on that girl, Manny. You could do a show just on her.
I take six shots of the burned house from different angles.
The rising sun creeping over the crumbling building creates a
shadowed graveyard. The smell of wet smoke gets to me. It makes
me thirsty. The woman walks up behind me as I take the last shot
of the rear. She taps me on the shoulder and I say, Hold on a
second, I almost got it.
The camera clicks and I turn around and then I see her.
Half her face is scarred, a massive burn that more slides
down her face than rests. It looks alive. I see it I notice it
but can not help but stare at the other half. The perfect and
smooth skin. The frighteningly beautiful, chiseled features. A
burning eye that stops me, that makes me want to look away but
oh I am magnetized.
I didnít get this today, she says.
What, I ask.
This, the burn, the thing youíve been looking at for the past
Oh, that. I wasnít looking at it. I was looking at your eyes.
Sure. Listen, the detective over there said I should see you
before I can leave. You need to take a picture here.
Yeah, I say. Why . . . uh, why donít you stand against the
wall. I point to the crisped back wall of the house.
She walks to the wall and stands. Her body is straight and
her left hip juts out just like a model. The curves of her body
are as sensual as the perfect half-face. Hitchcock would have
been in love. Newton would have made a fortune.
You done, she asks.
Would you mind, I ask, would you mind if I took one more.
Itís for my personal. I take pictures.
Apparently you do, she says.
No, I take them for myself. Iím working on a collection.
Oh, youíre an artist.
Yeah. A photographer, actually. Iíve had a couple of gallery
Listen, Mr. Artist, she says. You ever make any money off
your artwork at these galleries.
I nod my head.
Well, I wanna make some money too. Iím hungry. Buy me
breakfast, Iíll let you take as many pictures as you want.
Okay, I say, Okay. Breakfast. What do you like.
Steak, she says. And a bloody mary. Thatís what I want.
Swain gives me the rest of the day off and we take a cab to a
corner store near my apartment. I buy a bottle of vodka, two
steaks, a six pack of eggs, and some bloody mary mix.
We need celery too, she says. She breaks off two stalks from
a clump and puts them in her purse.
At the register the clerk asks me if I am going to pay for
the celery and I give him an extra two dollars. She smiles. You
shouldnít steal, she says. Itís bad for the soul.
I grab her by her hand and lead her out the door. You havenít
told me your name, I say.
You havenít said yours either.
Manny, I say, my name is Manny.
She pushes her hand out of mine and walks ahead of me. Which
way to your house, Manny the photographer, she says.
I point east and she leads the way.
The steaks have been eaten and the bloody marys drunk and she
stands in front of me. I am astounded by her beauty. She seems
so sure of herself. She is the perfect still.
She searches through my kitchen as if it were a museum. A
spatula with a burnt black end and a rusted handle. A chipped
cream plate with a green border. Borderline paper disposable.
She touches my dishes and I have a faint desire to frame them,
to save her caress for future generations. I see her perfect
profile and say, Youíre beautiful.
She turns to face me, both halves in view. Am I still
Yes, I say. Still beautiful.
How much money you got, she says.
How much money you got. Just tell me. Donít give me a hard
Whatís your name, I ask.
Manny, how much money you got.
I pull out my wallet. There are five twenties inside. Forty
dollars, I say.
She takes her shirt off quick, quicker than I am prepared
for, and stands topless next to the dirty dishes and crumpled
napkins and half eaten celeries. I stare at the light and smooth
tan line above her nipples. She pulls her skirt off and steps
out of her panties and she stands before me naked. I hold my
breath. The burn on her face disappears between the perfect
curves of her body and within her skin I disappear. Within the
shaved smoothness between her legs, the slight roundness of her
sex that I now adore.
You look like a movie star, I say.
Garbo, she says. Someone once said I looked like Garbo.
Yes, I say, Garbo, anyone you want to look like.
She is on my bed, one leg covered by a red silk sheet. One
hand rests between her legs and the other covers half her face.
I ask her to switch her hands. I want to see the burn. She
complies, arches her back and her groin rises beneath her hand.
She turns over and crouches on her knees. I can see the plump
roundness of her ass and below I see the miniature curves of her
I adore you. Click.
She says, This turn you on.
Yes, I admit. It does.
I put the camera down and walk toward her. I could love you.
So beautiful. All of you. The way you look in my lens.
I lie on the bed next to her and slide my hands gently up her
belly and between her breasts. I touch the cheek, her maps of
scars, and feel its roughness.
She grabs my wrist. What are you doing, she says.
Donít. No one touches me there.
I lean in close enough to smell the vodka on her skin. Is
that because they donít want to or because you donít let them.
She turns to lie on her back. Shhh, she says. She spreads her
legs. She is inviting me. Touch me there, she says.
I take off my shirt and slide down her body. I kiss her and
she is wet; she tastes metallic. I am enveloped between her
legs. I do not want to leave. My eyes look up her body and it
looks like a mountain and I see her eyes close and her neck
curve. She pushes me into her. Her back arches and I feel all of
her inside my mouth. She kisses my lips and tastes herself on me
as she undoes my belt. I enter easily and we start to move
together. Her eyes are closed and I can not look away from the
glorious dichotomy of her face. I kiss her purple lips and take
her breath inside me. She opens her eyes and sees me staring at
What, she whispers.
Your face, I say, how did it happen.
How did what happen. There is a stutter in her voice. She is
far from here and I do not think she hears my words.
The burn, I say, the burn.
Her arms reach between our bodies and she pushes me off her.
She jumps out of bed, screaming, Fuck you. She grabs her
clothes, her movements are so quick, and she runs out of the
bedroom, repeating, Fuck you, Fuck you, as I lie stiff on the
bed feeling more lonely than I have ever felt before.
I don't even know your name but I always loved the name
Gloria. And Gloria, I see you everywhere I go. The scar on the
cheek of the waitress this morning and there you were again. The
prostitutes on Colfax Avenue smoking Gitanos and I felt myself
inside you. I think Martina is jealous even though I have never
told her or anyone else about you. She watches me now, and when
I walk past her desk, she waits for my eyes, my camera lens, and
my attention to return to her, but Gloria I am wasted and spent
and all my energy is saved for you.
I developed the pictures and made copies from the negatives.
There are ten life size images of you hung on the walls of my
bedroom. I see the curves of your body and the ridges of your
scars and I feel lost and weighed down within this lack of
fulfillment. I miss you and promise I will never ask about it
again. I love you I want you back.
Itís the end of the world and Martina is wearing a knee
length alpine green skirt. I feel irrational and may start
crying at any moment. We are alone in the office. It is a small
precinct, more a home for weary outpatients than dispatch and
file, and loneliness is normal.
Martina brings a cup of coffee to my desk and touches me on
the shoulder. This may be the first time she has ever touched
You touched me, I say.
Yes, she says. You look half-dead.
Do you want to, she starts to say and then stops. There is
silence and I am watching her watch me.
What, I say.
Manny, she says, Do you want to take a picture of me.
I am surprised. Martina is reaching out which must mean I
look like shit.
Yes, I say, Of course, and I quickly grab the dented camera.
Why donít. Why donít you sit on the desk. Look at your
She sits and crosses her legs.
Will you lift your skirt a bit. I want to see her skin.
Donít push it Manny, Martina says. Just take the picture.
And I do. Click.
Martina walks back to the front desk. She does not accentuate
her curves as she walks. She sits in her chair, gives me one
quick look, then turns to the entrance silently.
I close my eyes and imagine the still, her smooth brown legs,
her smile, her eyes like a shapeshifter. A subtle shift of color
and I am healed. I will go home and tear down the pictures that
hang on my wall.
I walk toward the entrance and stop at the front desk.
Martina, I say, you donít have any scars anywhere, do you.
Goodbye Manny, she says.
The answering machine beeps as I walk into the house. I press
the red lit button and hear Swainís voice. It sounds like a flat
note on a piano. Lifeless, the voice is a marionette.
Manny, this is Swain, Detective Swain. Listen son, I just got
a call and, uh, the word is that you need to destroy the picture
of the Jane from the fire yesterday. Tear it up, throw it away,
forget it ever happened. Got it Manny. Good. Anyway, hope things
are good. I gotta go.
I open my desk drawer. The picture from the house. The
carboned wood and the smell is everywhere. I close my eyes and
let my fingers trace the paper and swear I can feel her. With my
eyes still closed, I tear the photo in half and tear it in half
again. I open my eyes and in my hands the squares of papers look
like shreds of tears.
I do not go into the bedroom. I will not touch the other
The gas from the stove fills the kitchen and a thrown spark
could set the air on fire. The burner catches and a ring of blue
flames spread across the bottom of the stained metal pot. The
papers start to burn. Slivers of grey ashes dance in the air.
The black smoke is a curtain. I cover my mouth with the cuff of
my shirt but the smoke is thick and burns my eyes and I have to
leave. I have to get far away from this act of Judas.
Outside the air is crisp. Dried and crumpled leaves look like
prunes. They look dehydrated, dead. Wind blows through me and I
shiver. The streets seem empty and I suppose that they go
nowhere. There is nowhere to go and so I walk.
The path to nowhere inevitably leads to a bar. I sit alone
nursing a scotch and soda. The wood paneling on the walls makes
this place look like a seventies den of the divorced middle
class. There are men, lonely like me I suppose, and they mirror
my movements. It is a communal feeling, here at the last cliff
I buy the man next to me a drink.
What do you do, I ask.
His response is stoic.
Iím a photographer, I say. I take pictures of beautiful
women. Then they run away from me. I wake up alone and all I
have are images of them, still paintings of their lives.
The man says nothing. I take a sip and he takes a sip and we
sit more still than the bartender who reads yesterdayís
And then sheís there, just a few dozen feet away and I know
she is here to taunt me. The world is not fair, she reminds me.
She has appeared from the shadows in the back of the bar. I see
the black lace veil moving faster than the speed of light toward
me but she does not stop until she passes me. She does not look
at me. Her veil faces straight in front of her. I smell the air
that surrounds her as she whispers something to the bartender.
Metal roses. She smells like metal roses.
I recognize the man with her, the congressman from the fire.
Was that yesterday.
Her body is carved from the purest marble. She gives the
bartender a fifty-dollar bill and I say her name. Gloria, I
She turns to me. Donít, she says from beneath her veil and
she is gone.
She moves too fast for me. She is a blade. She wants to hurt
me. I order another drink and quickly down it and I know she is
the most evil woman in the world.
The man next to me slides a scotch my way. He smiles. I look
at him. My glance is a message and I drink the scotch quick and
walk out the door before he or any other of these dead men can
say a thing to me.
It is five in the morning. I am curled in a ball on my
bedroom floor. The house smells like gasoline and I donít know
why. There are scraps of paper everywhere. I pick one up and see
that it is a picture of half a vagina, torn diagonally. Broken
glass and small trails of blood and I look at the soles of my
I am naked, crouched in a corner of the room. I swear I can
smell burnt roses in the air.
An untorn picture lying on the bed. Half developed, it is a
blur. I see the sharpness of green and the shadow of legs, long
and slim, crossed over each other. A shoe dangles off a foot.
The face is unrecognizable, it looks like a sphere or a
I close my eyes and see a black shadow across a face and a
body carved of stone.
There is a knocking at the door and I think of ravens.
I kill messengers, I scream. Five tons of steel marbles roll
in my head.
The knocking does not stop. I walk to the door and start
Go away, go away.
Itís me, she says.
Yes, I think, Gloria. There is a pause and then she says, Let
Why, I say.
Please Manny, donít be a child. Let me in, please.
I walk back into the bedroom and sit cross legged on my bed.
She laid here once. I photographed her. We had sex. She ran from
I donít want to see you, I scream at the front door.
There is a tapping at the bedroom window. You donít need to
scream, she says.
I see her face through the half-opened curtains and I
crumble. One look at her and she is forever etched in me like
sandpaper, like emulsified memory. I crack open the window and
she crawls into the bedroom. The first thing she does is hug me
tight, like a mother. Then she kisses me and I lose all sense of
gravity beneath the wet comfort of her lips.
Gloria does not hide her face. She doesnít feel vulnerable
around me. She kisses my chest and walks to the kitchen naked
and I can tell she is thinking of this house as her new home.
There is already a trace of her body on the left side of the
bed. I lean over and smell her on the sheets. I curl in a ball
and let it surround me and Gloriaís smell is my atmosphere. The
sheets are warm. I slide my hands across them and imagine I am
touching her. It is strange how quickly she can wash away any
pain I feel.
We did not make love. We lay face to face, pushing as much of
our skin together as possible. I closed my eyes and swallowed
her breaths and her warmth spread through me like cold glucose
through veins. The sun crept through the curtains and blanketed
us as we slept beneath each otherís shadows.
Gloria is standing by the bedroom door and the only thing
that covers her is a tray.
I made dinner, she says. You must be starving.
I smile and say, Come here. Put the tray down.
She drops the tray and rice scatters across the floor.
I want to make love to you, I say.
Donít make love to me. Fuck me.
I am not with him, Gloria says.
His name is Ruthless Hope. I was hired by a private
investigator. The wife wants a divorce. She wants proof of his
Gloria is not a prostitute. She is an actress and her role is
the destroyer of the Hope marriage. She tells me this and
everything makes sense. I do not feel bad about how she treated
me in the bar. She had to. Hope couldnít know we were together.
Gloria tells me that we are together.
This contentment feels new to me. It is safe, a warm hovel we
I love you, I say.
Do you love me.
She doesnít answer
I want you, I say. I need you.
My hands are on her cheeks. She does not push them away. She
lets me touch her.
Gloria, I say and the word hangs in the air until she speaks.
I canít, she says.
Gloria, I say, I will be broken forever.
I already am, she says. I already am.
His name was Murat. He killed a man, she says. It was a
revenge killing. Gloria was raped and Murat had no choice but to
search for his own justice. He never even tried to escape. He
just walked home and sat at the kitchen table and laid his head
in his arms. His shirt was drenched in a thick paste of blood
and there were cuts all over his hands. Ten minutes later the
police showed up. He stood up and put his arms behind his back
and they escorted him away.
Do you visit him still, I ask.
No. He refuses to see me. He says it would be too painful. He
wants me to move on, find some other love, have a child. I canít
Maybe heís right, I say. Heíll be in there forever. You canít
have a life with him.
Manny, she says. Donít.
Okay, I say. Iím sorry. We wonít talk about him. Okay. We
wonít talk about him.
Fine. Thatís fine.
Sheís pacing the room and if this were a cartoon fumes of
smoke would be pouring out of her ears.
Iím sorry, I say.
I walk up to her and lean my forehead against her bare
shoulder. She turns around. Slides a hand through my hair.
I know, she whispers. Weíll stop talking about him. Heís not
here. Itís just you and me.
She doesnít have to love me. Weíll be fine without that.
We go to the grocery store to pick up more steaks and celery.
On the way back to the apartment we pass the County Courthouse
and I say jokingly, How about we get married. We can go home and
get your veil and be back in less then an hour.
She looks at me and says, Are you asking me to marry you.
I am about to say, No, it was just a joke, but stop myself. I
think Iím actually asking her. I check her face to see if there
are any telltale features that will give away her answer, but
she is as sober as a guilty verdict and I have no choice but to
Yes, I say. Will you marry me.
Gloria says yes and I am confused and ecstatic at the same
time. I really donít know how to react next. Do I check the time
or look at the sun for a mystical marking.
But not today, she says. I have to finish the job with Hope.
Once thatís done, the slate will be clean. We can be free
Youíll have to give your real name to the County Clerk, I
Yes, Gloria says, I will.
I offer my help but Gloria quickly declines. She says she
doesnít want to get me involved, that Hope is a powerful man and
could ruin me.
This is too important, I say. I donít mind shooting a few
pictures of a congressman in bed with you. Iím a photographer.
Itís what I do. And if thatís all it takes for you to be mine,
then Iím more than willing to help.
After a long argument, Gloria reluctantly accepts my offer.
When shall we do it, she asks.
Tonight. The sooner the better.
She is meeting him at ten oíclock at the River Mill Motel off
of the highway. The motel is nearly always vacant during the
week and is far enough away from anything or anyone that might
find a man with a camera a bit suspicious. I am pacing around
the bedroom, the nervous energy eating away at me. Gloria calmly
applies makeup to half her face in the bathroom.
I walk behind her and kiss the nape of her neck.
I love you, I say.
Youíre sweet. Gloria hands me a tube of lotion and asks me to
rub it into the burn.
Are you sure, I ask. Is it all right.
She sits on the toilet seat and crosses her legs. She takes
my hand in hers and lightly kisses it. Yes, she says. Itís all
I rub the lotion in slow concentric circles and she moans
quietly in the porcelain silence of the bathroom. Her eyes are
closed and her fists are clenched and all I want to do is free
her from her pain.
It is almost eleven oíclock and I am crouched behind the
trunk of a pine tree. I twirl the extra room key around my
forefinger. Gloria said to wait until eleven. Hope likes to take
his time and she wants the shots to be incriminating. I close my
eyes and imagine that asshole entering her and I have no guilty
feelings about destroying this manís marriage.
There is a tiny creak as I push the door open and one hand
holds the camera to my eye, forefinger ready to shoot. I swing
the door open and fire repeatedly with the camera. I take at
least a dozen pictures before I realize what is going on.
She is naked except for the black leather mask half unzipped
on her head. Sheís on all fours and her feet are tied together
with exposed copper wire. Her ankles are covered in cuts and
they douse the sheets red. There are at least twenty welts
across her ass and back. Sweat drenched across her body.
Hopeís hands are digging into her haunch and he hasnít
stopped thrusting into her. He is whispering the words, bitch
cunt whore, over and over again like a pornographic mantra. He
turns to me and pulls out of her. Stands up and before I can
defend myself, he slams his fist into the camera. It connects
with my head and I feel myself slipping out of my body. And then
there is a thick and impenetrable blackness and a void that
lures me to sleep.
When I come to, she is above me. Her face is a glorious site.
Youíre so beautiful, I say.
Donít talk, she says. You need to rest.
Her face becomes a blur and the two sides meld into one and
her third eye stares deep within me.
It is morning when I wake up again. Gloria, I say.
Sheís staring down at me. No, she says. Mary, my nameís Mary.
The congressmanís body is a pile of flesh by her feet. Pieces
of a broken lamp orbit around his head.
Mary, I say. Heís dead. Mary.
Oh my god. What happened.
He lost it. After he knocked you down, he grabbed a gun from
his travel bag.
Gloriaís eyes are closed now. Her fingers pushed into her
temples. She leans back then whispers, I had no choice. I had to
Itís all right, I say.
I am pacing around the room, taking notice of every minute
detail. The cord to the lamp is still in the wall. The camera is
broken into a million pieces and the film is exposed. Hopeís
clothes are everywhere. The smell of stale blood filling up the
tiny motel room.
Weíll call the investigator. Weíll explain what happened.
Heíll be able to talk to the police about this. We can get
No. We canít.
What do you mean. Iíve seen situations worse than this and
the woman got off. We can do this. Weíll call him from here. It
will look better, if they check the phone records.
Thereís no investigator, Manny. Thereís no one to call.
I donít understand. You were working for someone, right. Tell
me you were working for someone.
There was no one.
What do you mean no one. Why.
I thought I could bribe him. I could maybe get a shortened
sentence for Murat. Hope could have pulled it off.
Oh shit, I say. Oh shit.
What are we going to do, Manny.
They found Hopeís body three days later. The fragments of the
camera were gone and Hope was fully dressed. His wallet and
wedding ring were missing. I was called in to take the pictures.
I made sure to take close up shots, leaving out as much as
Hopeís car was found weeks later, completely stripped and
rotting in a junkyard south of downtown. Swain told me he didnít
expect to ever find the perpetrators.
Sheís gone. I told her to disappear, to pretend she never met
me. To forget about all of this. She cried, grabbed hold of me
and wouldnít let go. She said she could learn to love me. She
asked if there was any other way.
She had been seen with him too many times. Swain knew I left
with her. There were too many lines to the truth.
She walked to the highway and hitchhiked away. Iím not sure
if she went south or north. Iíll probably never know.
A graduate of the MFA program at Naropa University, Vishal
Khanna currently writes grants for dermatologists in
Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His fiction and nonfiction have
been published in Punk Planet, Thought Magazine,
Pixelpress and Bombay Gin. He is currently working
on a collection of novellas and short stories.